Advice from the IRS (and Us) about Keeping your Records Safe in Case of Disaster

Some natural disasters are more common in the summer. But major events like hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods can strike any time. It’s a good idea to plan for what to do in case of a disaster. You can help make your recovery easier by keeping your tax and financial records safe. Here are some basic steps you can take now to prepare.

Back up Records Electronically

Scan your hard copy documents to a common file format such as PDF, which can be read by the Adobe Reader software program – it’s free and can be installed on computers running Windows, Apple, and Linux operating systems. You can use an external hard drive, CD or DVD to store important records or back up to an online service (“the cloud”) so your records are accessible to you anywhere you have an Internet connection. (We suggest you use both.)

Here’s a list of records we suggest you back up:

1. Bank statements.

2. Tax records

3. Insurance policies, including certificates of insurance and beneficiary designations

4. Beneficiary designations on IRAs and other retirement plans

5. Savings bonds and other financial instruments

6. Property deeds and titles to vehicles

7. Estate planning documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.)

8. Credit card statements, mortgages, and other evidences of debt

9. List of usernames and passwords to computers and Web sites that are important to you

10. Any documents you have that comprise your Personal Health Record (medical records, prescriptions, health care providers)

11. Other important papers, such as marriage licenses, birth certificates, military discharge papers, that are not easily duplicated in the event they are destroyed

12. List of names and contact information of people who are important to you (family members, friends, attorney, insurance agent, accountant/tax preparer, primary care physician, and others)

Be sure you keep one back up copy at home and a second copy in a safe place outside your home. If a disaster strikes your home, it may also affect a wide area. If that happens you may not be able to retrieve your records.

Many people receive financial statements by email. If your bank, creditors, utilities and other people you regularly do business with offer online, secure access to your account with them, consider taking them up on their offer. Include the account numbers and usernames and passwords for these businesses on the list referenced in Item #9 above.

Document Valuables

Take photos or videos of the contents of your home or business. These visual records can help you prove the value of your lost items. They may help with insurance claims or casualty loss deductions on your tax return. You should store them with a friend or relative who lives out of the area.

Update Emergency Plans

Review your emergency plans ever year. Update them when your situation changes. Make sure you have a way to get severe weather information. Have a plan for what to do if threatening weather approaches.

Get Copies of Tax Returns or Transcripts

Visit IRS.gov to get Form 4506: Request for Copy of Tax Return, to replace lost or destroyed tax returns. If you just need information from your return, you can order a free transcript online or by calling 800-908-9946. You can also file Form 4506T-EZ: Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T: Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

Contact the IRS

If you fall victim to a disaster, know that the IRS stands ready to help. You can call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 for special help with disaster-related tax issues.

Visit IRS.gov to get more about IRS disaster assistance. Click on the “Disaster Relief” link in the lower left of the home page. You can also get forms and publications anytime on IRS.gov. To get them in the mail, call TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

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